On Monday evening, the city witnessed torrential rains for a good 15 minutes, and life came to a halt. Flooding, power cuts, tree collapses and traffic jams were in evidence in various wards.
This despite the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) having an anti-flooding squad, also known as ‘gang’ in each civic ward. The squad comprises 90-100 people, of which 30-35 work in 12-hour shifts. Ideally, the squad steps out during heavy showers, and clears flood waters and removes impediments to movement from all roads under its control in the quickest time possible. Tasks include opening the drain lids and clearing the garbage or floating material accumulated, to avoid clogging.
However, the situation is different on the ground. The squads are neither trained, nor are the personnel adequate for anti-flooding operations. But, most importantly, they are not visible during heavy rains. “What can one junior engineer and a few labourers do in a flood like situation? They are not trained, and are ill equipped to tackle floods. Moreover, they are not seen at chronic flooding spots,” said James John, coordinator at AGNI, an NGO. James informed that these staff only open the manholes of sewage lines and allow the water to flow into it. “They only stand and remove floating material from the water, more is expected from the civic body,” said James.
The anti-flooding squad under a junior engineer comprises 7-8 employees from the Garden department, 3 from a local NGO, 9 from the Storm Water Drain (SWD) department, 9 from the local ward, 9-10 from Sewage Operation (SO) department and 2-3 from a local pump operator. “This man power should be utilised in a proper manner. They should be trained,” said Bhalchandra Patil, retired deputy municipal commissioner.
“We have sufficient staff and they work well when it’s raining heavily,” said Suresh Kurhade, assistant municipal commissioner.
Sitaram Kunte, BMC municipal commissioner, however informed that the labourers can’t be trained technically. “They just do their work manually and we cannot train them. Also they have to move from one place to another, and are mostly deployed at chronic flooding spots,” said Kunte.
He also stated that water logging is inevitable for at least few hours. “We are trying to reduce its intensity, but cannot avoid water logging, as the city cannot change geographically,” said Kunte.
Bound to flood
According to L S Vhatkar, chief engineer of BMC’s storm water drain project, “The city will come to a halt for a few days during the monsoons, as the original city was made up of seven islands and it was reclaimed. Flooding is bound to happen.” He further informed that when there are thundershowers, the low-lying areas would get flooded.
There are over 40 chronically flood-affected areas identified by the civic body, which include Kalbadevi, Tardeo, Sleater Road, Worli, Parel, Hindmata, King’s Circle, Sion, Kurla (E), Khar Road (W), Vile Parle, Milan Subway, Juhu Tara Road, Andheri Subway, Piramal Nagar, Goregaon (W), Kotkar Nullah in Goregaon (E), Malad Subway, Sambhaji Nagar, Dahisar, Kirol Road, Ghatkopar and Bhandup village.
Solution at hand
However, experts say there is a solution to prevent water logging in low-lying areas, but the administration needs to act promptly. “Firstly, all the nullahs should be cleaned properly. Secondly, after desilting nullahs, silt placed along the nullahs is left unattended. That should be removed immediately, otherwise it will flow back into the gutter and may lead to floods,” said Bhalchandra Patil, retired deputy municipal commissioner.
He also pointed out that every ward should allot 70-80 class IV employees as anti flooding staff. These staffers should be on the field during floods. Moreover, he stated that the traffic police should coordinate with BMC, and constitute a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to clear traffic and inform motorists to avoid flooded roads. “The announcement can be made outside railway stations, as many times due to heavy rains Internet or servers may not work,” Patil suggested.
Another retired deputy municipal commissioner Prakash Sangilkar felt that the civic body has failed to control the water logging problem. “To overcome the water logging problem, the BMC has to set up at least 35 to 37 pumping stations at places, which are designated as low-lying areas.”
Nandkumar Salvi, former chief engineer of the storm water drain project also emphasised on building pumping stations. “Unless and until proposed pumping stations are not built in the city, there won’t be much relief. There are eight pumping stations proposed, but six are only on paper.” After visiting few of the nullahs in the city, Salvi observed that this year the nullah cleaning work is much better than previous years.
BMC is working on the water pumping stations, which could reduce the water logging problem in the city. Vhatkar said, “There are two pumping stations which are functional but the garbage from the drains has to be cleared. We are currently building six other pumping stations. Secondly, pumps have also been stationed at various flooding spots. This is the only solution to water logging even after drains and major nullahs have been desilted.”
BMC’s disaster management chief Mahesh Narvekar said, “In case of waterlogging, citizens should immediately inform the disaster control on 108. This toll-free number is accessible through all networks, and then we can mobilise all resources to the spot where flooding occurs. The ward-level officials, the fire brigade, traffic policemen, and even health officials, if required, would be sent over. They would then help drain the water from the roads.”
I have seen the anti-flooding squad from the BMC many times near the Indian oil junction at Andheri (West) and near the Andheri Subway pumping out water with the help of high power pumps. But I personally feel that the number of these squads should be increased during monsoon and these people should be deployed at all the important junctions or flood prone areas, so that they can at least guide the pedestrians about the open manholes.
Dhiraj Bhatia (27), Versova resident
I have never heard nor seen an anti-flooding squad. But, if any such squad exists then I don’t know where these people are when water logging takes place. In order to help the people during monsoon and flooding, the BMC should deploy a team of these people at all important roads and places that are flooded.
Siddhesh Surve (25) Executive, Advertising agency
I don’t know if anything like this exists but the BMC should plan before hand, and then clean the gutters, which are the main reason for flooding.
Dipika Foman, Bandra resident